Gold Hill resident Helen Mary Thomas, 94, who was unable to renew her Oregon driver's license because she doesn't have a birth certificate, is back behind the wheel.

Gold Hill resident Helen Mary Thomas, 94, who was unable to renew her Oregon driver's license because she doesn't have a birth certificate, is back behind the wheel.

After a four-month bureaucratic battle, the grandmother now has a renewed license, according to her son, Douglas Thomas of Boise, Idaho.

"Mom now has her Oregon driver's license, thanks to the Medford office," he wrote in an email to the Mail Tribune, referring to the Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles Services Division in Medford, formerly Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles.

"We were able to find census reports (1930 and 1940) and Oregon voter's registration," he added. "While we could not meet the birth certificate ... the census, Oregon voter registration and old driver's license proved adequate."

Helen Thomas, who has had an Oregon driver's license since 1973, was told by the Medford DMV office on May 29 that she had to show proof of U.S. citizenship and a copy of her birth certificate.

The problem was that she had never been issued a birth certificate. No doctor was present when she was born May 29, 1919, in her parents' rural home in Washington County, Tenn.

The local DMV office, after issuing her a temporary license for three months, instructed her to send a letter with the necessary paperwork to the Social Security Administration to obtain a "numident." Short for "numerical identification," it is basically the agency's computerized database file.

Widowed in 1996 after the death of Hoyt "Curly" Thomas, her husband of 46 years, she depends on her ability to drive to survive, she said, noting none of her grown children live in the area. She needs to be able to drive to pick up her medication, she said.

"I drive a lot less now but I'm still a good driver," she told the Mail Tribune.

In the 77 years she has driven, she has received only one ticket, and that was before moving to Oregon, she said. She is retired from Hewlett-Packard Co. in California, where she worked in the rivet department.

Her new license expires in 2021, but she told the newspaper she wants to drive for only another year.

Proof of citizenship for a driver's license renewal is the result of Oregon Senate Bill 1080, which became law in July of 2008, explained David House, spokesman for the DMV's state office.

The law was spurred by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. and followed the Federal Real ID Act passed by Congress in 2005. The state law was aimed at stopping terrorists from using illegally obtained driver's licenses to access airports and government buildings.

Although noting it was a bit unusual for a natural-born U.S. citizen not to have a birth certificate, House said the DMV works with applicants who find themselves falling through the cracks through no fault of their own.

With driver's licenses being issued on eight-year rotations, many people are now having to show proof of their legal presence for the first time, he explained.

Meanwhile, she has also received her numident from the Social Security Administration and is in the final steps of obtaining a delayed birth certificate from the state of Tennessee, her son reported.

He cited the help of Troy Ferguson at U.S. Rep. Greg Walden's office in Medford, the Jackson County elections center and the Mail Tribune's article.

"Mom is back in good spirits," Douglas Thomas observed. "She sounds like a huge, weighty concern has been lifted from her."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or